Fichigan

Small stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Spontaneous Campground Jams

Feral with D-35

Feral with the D-35 Martin

I hitched up the bass boat and tossed in the camping basics, grabbed my acoustic guitar, and jumped on the freeway. It was the fastest I have ever gotten out of town. This was on a Friday, with cold rain in the forecast Saturday noon. I needed to get in one last camping trip this year. I swung by to pick up Feral and he tossed in his gear along with a borrowed classical guitar and we set up our tents at campsite one on Big Leverentz. Feral put the classical guitar in his tent and I mentioned he should keep it locked in the truck but he wasn’t too concerned.

We launched the boat and hit the lake with high expectations. I think the fish must have decided to go camping too, in the middle of the lake. Discouraged, we went back to shore and ate a sub sandwich and downed a beer. A stranger walked by and mentioned that he thought he saw a guitar case earlier when we were setting up. The reason he mentioned it was he and his buddy also brought guitars. They were camping too. We told him to stop by later if they wanted to jam.

After dark we pulled out the guitars and set a small lantern in the fire pit as we didn’t have logs for a fire, but the ambiance was still good, in part made so by the warm night and cold beer. It helped there were no bugs out, mosquitoes or otherwise. We played a couple songs and soon the other camper, Kyle, showed up carrying a guitar case. He apologized saying his buddy had crashed out early but he wanted to stop by. That was a shame because based on Kyle’s description of his buddy, we had a lot of music in common, including Jethro Tull which may not be familiar to a lot of people.

Kyle, though, was into blues and said he was working on some patterns. I wouldn’t call either Feral or myself bluesmen and don’t recollect whether we even played any blues, but we played the heck out of some songs and got to know Kyle who added some tasty lead licks here and there. As happens most times, Feral started telling stories and Kyle had some himself so there was no dead space between jams and pretty soon our limited supply of beer was the only source of blues for the entire evening. As the beer disappeared and the guitar playing sounded better and better, Feral and Kyle both indicated, in subtle competitiveness, how each had started drinking at an earlier hour that day than the other guy, so that was a running joke, which sounds lame in the telling but was funny if you were there and under the influence. When I say influence, I mean everything: camping, night air, starlit sky, crossing paths with someone you didn’t know 5 hours earlier, who just happen to glimpse a guitar case, and who turns out to be a guitar player willing to take a chance and play guitar with two strangers.

Spontaneous jams – this has happened before at Leverentz Lake. One year we set up at Little Leverentz and a young couple noticed we had instruments and stopped to ask if we “jammed.” Sure! So they stopped over and she played mandolin (which Feral played at the time) and the young man played an acoustic guitar that he had strung with nylon strings for the high b and e strings, which produced some interesting tones. We had a good jam that lasted pretty late, partly because some other young campers across from us came over and so that jam turned into an all out campground party. I don’t know what time we crashed out but a thunderstorm rolled in that night that literally shook the ground with shock waves. Feral and I had an old cabin tent and that fell down on top of us. When we crawled out in the morning trees were down and the young couple camping next to us were gone – but left their tent there. I suspect the violent storm was a bit much for them and they found a motel. A smart decision in retrospect.

Another night, Feral and I camped at site two on Big Leverentz, which is on a hill and somewhat remote from the other campsites. The whole campground appeared empty. We had some electric guitars and battery powered amps and got a little loud. Suddenly we saw a lantern wobbling down the road to our site. Three young guys, around high school age, came into camp and said they heard us jamming and could they listen? They did more than listen, one said he was a guitarist so we handed him a guitar and he cranked out some Creedence and various other jams and that turned out to be pretty interesting night also.

Pigeon River Brown Trout

Feral and I usually close out the trout season in the Pigeon River State Game Area mainly because there are two exceptional trout streams for brown trout, the Sturgeon and the Pigeon. We count on the weather turning nasty at the end of September but this year we had cold weather and low, clear streams. For big browns in the fall – it helps to have rivers at almost flood stage which triggers the spawn and movement of large brown trout into the upper stretches of the rivers. So we didn’t get our wish, but still caught a couple nice fish over twenty inches. Our cohort, Natch, upstaged us this year with a trip to the Sturgeon where he took even larger fish. No video, but a recount of his story with photos will be posted later on Fichigan.

Dog Lake Flooding

Panorama of Pickeral Lake

It had been thirty years since Feral, his buddy Jeff and I fished the remote flooding up in the Pigeon River State game area. In my mind at least it started taking on mythical proportions as northern pike water. On that fateful day decades ago we pulled in too many pike to count including some twenty inchers that had obviously been attacked by much larger pike, with teeth gouge marks surrounding their bodies. Feral cleaned up that day with a yellow in-line rooster tail spinner and that meant every third cast he was pulling in the small but abundant pike. We didn’t latch on to one of the monsters prowling the dark water…but there was no doubt they were in there. Fast-forward to this fall on annual trout camp closer, this time with kayaks and the means to get back into that remote water.

Natch drove. He has a pickup truck designed to haul big things and 3 kayaks in the back was no problem. We stopped at the ranger station to pick up a map – just in case – which was lucky because the road into the flooding was unmarked. Still, we needed a GPS. The road was overgrown and unused. That may have been a good clue. The road, or opening,  was just wide enough to get the truck through if the side mirrors were tucked in. The further we went, the tighter it got – so I’ll thank Natch for keeping his cool which is hard to do driving a new truck through a virtual canopy of claw-like branches and blowdowns. There was no turning around once we started: Feral speculated the 3 kayaks sticking up over the rear gate would be like the prongs of a treble hook, so even backing out was out of the question.
Luther and Feral ready for Dog Lake
At the end of the trail we found a clearing and what used to be a channel out into the flooding. 30 years put the flooding another 50 yards out from the landing. 50 yards of floating bog: grass and roots that sunk down with every step – like walking on a carpet laying over a swimming pool. We had to drag the kayaks over the bog and couldn’t help but wonder who would break through and disappear first. We leaned on the kayaks for stability and dragged them over the clumps of floating grass.
Luther making the mucky trek to water at Dog Lake
Everything in the above photo is floating on water. No telling how deep.
Luther and Feral on Dog Lake
Natch launched last and took this photo as he paddled out into the flooding. (All photos by Natch) Somehow everything looked bigger than I remembered. Maybe it was the vantage point of a kayak versus a rowboat – sitting closer to water level.

The wind picked up right away and the temperature nose-dived. Fortunately we were bundled up good with lots of layers so we planned it right. When the sun went behind the clouds it felt like the temp dropped ten degrees in a matter of seconds.

I started working the upwind portion of the flooding, in part to avoid wind drift, but could only make a couple casts with a 3/8 ounce white spinner bait and then I was too far from shore. So it was cast, paddle, cast, and I worked myself into a comfortable but fishless rhythm. Natch and Feral did their own exploring and soon we were scattered around the flooding, beyond yelling distance. I expected both of them were hauling in fish so I experimented with lures including a pop-r around some lily pads figuring if there was bass around – that is a pretty good draw. Still, cast after cast – nothing.
Luther paddling on Dog Lake
After an hour I headed to a centrally located island where I saw Natch fishing earlier. We were all thinking the same thing: converge there and see how everyone is doing. First consensus – not so good. The pike were missing.
Big catch on Dog Lake by Natch
This fish, caught by Natch, confirmed our worst fears: Piranha had eaten all of the pike in Dog Lake Flooding. I expect the pike put up a good battle but it may have come down to attitude. Piranha are vicious. Here, Natch employs the Vulcan Nerve Pinch which subdues all manner of carbon based life forms. We could have switched fishing tactics but not one of us remembered to bring along the rules and regs so the we didn’t know about legal limits or even whether piranha are in season.  So we called it a day and headed back to the floating bog mass.
Natch waiting on Luther and Feral coming off Dog Lake
I’m happy to report we all made it back to solid ground.  We were up for the challenge but I guess you can’t “go back.” 30 years is a long time. I’m going to ask Feral to make a sign for the trailhead:  Dog Lake Flooding – Enter at Your Own Risk.  A skull and crossbones would do nicely.

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